As a parent or guardian of a young child, your primary responsibility is always to keep the child safe, including when driving. To do so, you must know and follow the seat belt and car seat laws in Texas. These laws are in place to protect children and prevent them from suffering serious injuries if a car accident occurs.
Here, we provide an overview of those laws. As you will see, a child’s age, size and weight can all be factors that determine the proper restraint system for the child. If you have any questions about your legal rights if your child is hurt in an accident in Houston or surrounding areas, feel free to contact us to discuss your case.
Seat Belt and Car Seat Laws in Texas
Texas law generally requires anyone who is at least 15 years of age to wear a lap-and-shoulder seat belt when driving or riding in a car as a passenger. If you are caught violating this law, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of $25 to $50. Additionally, if you are driving a car with a passenger who is younger than age 17, you must ensure that the passenger is wearing a seat belt. The failure to do so is also a misdemeanor. It carries a fine of $100 to $200.
The law serves an important safety purpose. As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reports, wearing a seat belt decreases one’s risk of dying in an accident by 45 percent (60 percent if riding in a pickup truck). Unfortunately, too many people fail to follow the law. In 2018 alone, 982 people who were not buckled up died in traffic crashes on the state’s streets and highways in 2018, marking a 6 percent increase from the previous year, according to TxDOT.
Additionally, under Texas law, any child who is younger than age 8 must ride in a “child passenger safety seat system” unless the child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches. To comply with this law, the seat must be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and it must meet federal standards that have been set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Specifically, the seat must meet FMVSS 213, which establishes the safety seat standards for children up to 80 pounds. The seat should have a sticker which indicates that it meets this standard.
A violation of the car seat law is a misdemeanor. It carries a fine of $25 to $200. However, if you can provide proof that you bought and installed a car seat in compliance with the law after you received a ticket, it can serve as a defense.
Finally, if you own a pickup truck, you should know that it is illegal to allow a child who is younger than age 18 to ride in the open bed. This is also a misdemeanor offense, which carries a fine of $25 to $200.
What Should You Look for in a Car Seat?
A car seat will be one of the most important items that you buy to protect your child if a car accident occurs. A car seat will be needed as soon as your child is born until he or she is old enough to wear a seat belt. However, you may find that it’s a challenge to find the right car seat for your child.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide and its Ultimate Car Seat Guide, you should first read the label before you buy a car seat. You want to make sure the car seat fits your child’s age, weight and height limits. Finally, make sure the car or booster seat fits your budget. You should also:
- Look for a car seat that already comes with extra features such as harness straps.
- Stay away from used car seats from garage sales, flea markets or consignment shops. A used car seat could be broken, old or previously involved in an accident.
- Get a car seat with instructions from the manufacturer. Remember, car seat laws require you to follow manufacturer instructions.
The NHTSA says that parents should base their car seat on which one of the following four phases their child is in:
- Phase 1 (rear-facing seat) – Children who are infants up to two years old should be placed in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, or until they reach the weight and height limits for the seat.
- Phase 2 (forward-facing seat) – When children outgrow the rear-facing safety seat, they should ride in a forward-facing safety seat with a harness for as long as possible – again, up to the upper weight or height limits for the seat. Generally, children will ride in this type of seat until they reach age 7.
- Phase 3 (booster seat) – Generally, children between the ages of 8-12 should ride in a booster seat until they have reached the appropriate level of behavior maturity. The booster seat must have a lap-and-shoulder belt.
- Phase 4 (adult safety belt) – Once a child outgrows his or her booster seat, the child can use the adult safety belt if it fits properly.
Remember, all children younger than the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. Following these phases will be helpful in keeping your child safe in your car.
Our Houston Child Injury Lawyers Are Here for You
Unfortunately, no matter how safe you are, you cannot control what others do on the road. If your child suffers injuries in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact Michael P. Fleming & Associates, P.C. We will provide the highly personalized service and aggressive legal representation that you and your family deserve. We have decades of experience with helping those injured in car accidents in Houston and throughout Texas, including child injury victims. We will be by your side every step of the way. Contact us online or call our Houston office today for a timely and free consultation.